KartaImarataKavkaz

by Gordon M. Hahn

Introduction

In recent months the long-standing globalization of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin and jihadists from Russia’s North Caucasus inspired by them has taken on unprecedented proportions. Amirs representing probably most and perhaps as much as 80 percent of the CE’s mujahedin have taken the Islamic loyalty oath or bayat to the Islamic State (IS) and ‘caliph’ Abubakr al-Baghdadi. An IS-tied shakhidka or female suicide bomber from the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan attacked in Istanbul, Turkey, and in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and other attacks in France, a series of cells and plots involving jihadists from the North Caucasus apparently tied to IS were unvovered in Europe.

This marks the continuation of processes foreseen in my first book on the subject, Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), detailed in my second, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), and further detailed in two white papers: “The Caucasus Emirate and Other North Caucasus Mujahedin in Syria”[1] and the still unpublished “The Caucasus Emirate and the Fitna in the Levant.” In the first, I warned that the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya’s growing jihadization, completed with the October 2007 declaration of the Caucasus Emirate, would provide fighters and operatives for insurgent and terrorist plots carried out by global jihadi organizations like Al Qa`ida. In the second I traced the CE’s deepening integration into the global jihadi revolutionary alliance, including the CE’s first operations abroad and lone wolf plots and AQ operatives from the Caucasus and inspired by the CE uncovered operating in Europe. In the published white paper I detailed the exodus of thousands of Caucasus mujahedin to the Levant, Jabhat al-Nusrah (JaN) and the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL, now IS). In the second, I discussed the CE’s deepening political involvement in, and emerging split over the ‘fitna’ or dissension within the global jihadi revolutionary alliance and conflict between JaN and ISIL/IS. Since this last analysis, the CE’s and Caucasus’s involvement abroad in the global jihadi revolutionary alliance has grown.

A Brief History of the CE and Its Ties to the Global Jihad

As documented in The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin, Defense Intelligence Agency and US court documents, as well as statements and historical accounts offered by the CE and the ChRI, testify to ties dating back as far as 1995 when al-Qa`ida (AQ) and other Islamist elements began infiltrating the ChRI. Moreover, the so-called 21st bomber of 9/11, Zacarias Moussaoui, was left untouched because his only tie to AQ was through Ibn al-Khattab. An associate of Osama bin Laden who worked in the ChRI for years and led the July 1999 invasion of Dagestan by jihadists from the then semi-independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, Khattab was thought not to be part of AQ or the global jihad. ChRI was mistakenly thought to be a purely nationalist separatist movement of “freedom-fighters.” However, it was deeply involved in an ultimately aborted 2000 al-Qaeda plot to hijack a civilian airliner flying out of Frankfurt.[2]

By 2002, ChRI’s jihadist wing had become as least as powerful as its nationalist wing. Then in October 2007, the jihadist wing seized complete control of the ChRI, ejected the ChRI nationalists, rejected their goal of an independent Chechnya and declared the CE as well as jihad against all infidel countries fighting Muslims across the globe.

Since its founding, the CE cells and operatives have carried out nearly 3,000 attacks in Russia, including 56 suicide bombings; undertaken failed plots in Belgium (2010), Azerbaijan (2012) and elsewhere; inspired several more; and published on its websites nothing but global jihadist propaganda from the likes of bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Anwar al-Awlaki. In a 2011 video, the CE’s present emir and then qadi (Shariah court judge) Ali Abu Muhammad al-Dagistani (born Aliaskhab Kebekov) stated explicitly: “We are doing everything within our power to create the Caliphate.”

In September 2010, the global jihad’s perhaps leading philosopher, Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi, called on Muslims to support the CE as it is jihad’s “doorway to Europe.” Chechen-born Eldar Magomedov led a 2012 al-Qaeda plot to attack targets in Spain and possibly France during the London Summer Olympic Games and was described by a Spanish court and police as al-Qaeda’s top operative in Europe.[3]

In late 2011 or early 2012, the CE’s founding emir, Dokku Umarov, financed and dispatched several emirs to Syria. Among them was Tarkhan Batirashvili, better known as Umar al-Shishani, the emir of IS’ northern or Syrian front.[4] Some reports indicate he masterminded IS’ offensive in Iraq’s Anbar Province that led to Baghdadi’s declaration of a caliphate. Batirashvili’s brother, Tamaz, may have a more important if clandestine role in IS.[5] At least seven other CE-tied amirs now head smaller groups in IS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other jihadist umbrella groups in the Levant. Many of them, including Batirashvili, say they plan to return to the Caucasus and CE to strengthen jihad at some future date, while several of them maintained their bayat to the CE emir.

Also documented in The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin, There have been CE groups operating in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria since 2012. Yet, as late as September 2014, The Jamestown Foundation and Mairbek Vatchagaev, the former spokesman of the late Aslan Maskhadov — president (1995-2005) of the CE’s predecessor organization, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI) — claimed: “[T]he North Caucasus resistance remains a separate movement that has not developed solidarity networks with the Middle Eastern radicals.”[6]

Since Emir Dagistani replaced Umarov this year as the CE’s leader (after Russian intelligence succeeded in poisoning Umarov in September 2013), he has been preoccupied with stemming the emigration of mujahedin to fight in the Levant and justifying a neutral, though transparently pro-al-Qaeda, position in the conflict between IS and al-Qaeda over leadership of the global jihad. In September, he, along with Maqdisi and several other prominent jihadist “scholars,” issued a statement calling on IS to be more moderate and patch up the split with al-Qaeda. This exacerbated what was already a tense verbal war between the CE leadership and IS.

The CE Split and the Rise of the Caucasus Emirate of the Islamic State

In November 2014, a small DV cell or “jamaat” from Aukhovskii village took the bayat to IS’ Baghdadi. The DV’s Shariah Court judge and its Mountain Sector emir, Abu Usman al-Gimravii, condemned the Aukhovskii jamaat for risking dissension (fitna) and division within the CE and noted that the CE takes no side in the IS-al-Qaeda dispute. However, he implicitly criticized Baghdadi’s declaration of the caliphate and himself caliph by asking how CE mujahedin could commit such treachery and destruction in regard to the CE by declaring allegiance to an “unknown entity,” which “has not been recognized by scholars, hides out of sight, lacks the strength to defend Muslims, and does not see or know Muslims.”[7]

On December 19, a more damaging defection occurred when the the amir of the CE’s largest network – its Dagestan network or the ‘Dagestan Vilaiyat’ (DV) – Abu Muhammad al-Kadarskii (born Rustam Asildarov) issued an announcement that he had taken the Islamic loyalty oath or “bayat” to IS and its ‘caliph’ al-Baghdadi.[8] Days later, amir Markhan, the amir of the Eastern Front under the CE’s Chechnya network, the Nokchicho Vilayat (NV), followed suit. Since there are only two fronts under the NV, Markhan could be taking half of the NV mujahedin with him.[9]

Overall the CE defectors will be taking hundreds of CE mujahedin and thousands of potential recruits ‘with them’, though it remains unclear whether they plan to go to the Levant. The DV and NV Eastern Front could comprise as much as 80 percent of the CE’s already dwindling forces. These defections are a severe blow to the CE, which has seen its capacity diminish since 2011, following the surge in emigration to Syria since 2012. More importantly, the DV and NV Western Front defections mark the de facto creation of a Caucasus Emirate of the Islamic State (CE IS) – the final stage of the CE’s integration into the global jihadi revolutionary alliance, institutionalizing ties that had been developed over many years.

The first response to these major splits came from amir Dagistani’s close associate, the DV qadi and DV Mountain Sector’s amir Abu Muhammad Usman al-Gimravii (born Magomed Suleimanov), who referred to Asildarov as the DV’s “former emir” and condemned his action as “treachery” and a “violation of the bayat” to CE Emir Dagistani. Fearing many DV emirs and mujahedin would follow Asildarov, he warned that violating the oath is a “serious offense” that carries with it “grave consequences” for everyone committing it.[10] On December 28, CE Emir Dagistani displayed an equally harsh stance and announced the appointment of a new DV leader.[11] Salim, the amir of the CE’s network in the North Caucasus republics of Kabardin-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, the United Vilaiyat of Kabardia, Balkaria, and Karachai (OVKBK), declared his loyalty to the CE and amir Dagestani in January.[12] The amir of the CE’s other network, the Ingushetiya network of Galgaiche Vilaiyat (GV), secently issued a video greeting to the IS mujahedin, ‘caliph’ Baghdadi, and IS Northern Front amir Batirashvili, but he did not announce a decision on whether or not the GV would join IS and CE IS or remain with the CE and Dagistani, neither of which were mentioned in the 1 munute and 42 second video.[13]

The DV and NV (IS-CE) emirs could take away with them more than half of the CE’s forces. If the now IS-loyal CE emirs and their mujahedin depart for the Levant, the CE’s capacity would be devastated. In that case, Umarov’s gamble of sendingmujahedeen to Syria so that they could network and gain experience with the global jihad in the Levant and later to strengthen the CE will have failed miserably. If, on the other hand, the IS-CE remains in the Caucasus and draws back some of the CE mujahedin in the Levant, then a strong resurgence of jihad in Russia is almost certain.

The CE, IS, and ‘Out-of-Area’ Operational Developments

At the same time the CE split between the Dagistani-loyal CE and the new CE IS, consisting of the at least some of the CE’s DV and NV Eastern Front, several operational ties between IS, on the one hand, and CE operatives and/or jihadists from the North Caucasus inspired by them, emerged outside the Levant. One at the doorstep to Europe from the levant, Turkey, and others in Europe proper.

On January 6th a female resident of Dagestan, Diana Ramazova, carried out a suicide bombing of a police station Istanbul, Turkey, killing one policeman and wounding another.[14] Days later, two Dagestanis and four Chechens were detained in connection with the attack.[15] In short, the attack had a strong Caucasus signature.

It also had an ISIS one. Reports indicated that Ramazova was married to a ‘martyred’ ISIS fighter and Chechen immigrant to Norway named Abu Aluevitsy Edelbiyev. Ramazova came to Turkey in May 2014 where she met Eldebiyev. They married and then left for Syria, where Edelbiyev was killed in December. Ramazova was somehow able to afford a thousand-mile taxi reide from Syria to Istanbul, where she carried out her attack.[16] It remains unclear whether the CE or the breakaway ISIS-loyal CE (IS CE) was involved in the attack in any direct way.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and other attacks in France, an IS-Caucasus trail across Europe emerged with the uncovering of several allegedly IS-tied cells and plots that involved Dagestanis and Chechens. On January 16, in dawn raids on 11 premises in Berlin led to the arrest of two men suspected of helping to recruit for the Islamic State in Syria. According to police, one arrestee “Ismet D.”, a 41-year-old male, was suspected of “leading an Islamist extremist group made up of Turkish and Russian nationals from Chechnya and Dagestan.”[17]

Four days later, police arrested five Chechen citizens of Russia in southern France on suspicion of preparing an attack. Four had been arrested in or nearby Montpellier, and a fifth in Beziers. A weapons cache and explosives were found. Midi Libre newspaper reported that a cache of explosives was found during police searches. However, the case was not passed onto the anti-terrorist section of the Paris prosecutor’s office, and it was suspected that TV the Chechens may have constituted an organized crime preparing to settle scores with other Chechen gangs.[18]

Last year several Chechens planning terrorist attacks or tied to IS were arrested in Europe. In February 2014, two Chechen females were arrested in France on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks and having ties to the North Caucasus insurgency.[19] Sapiyat Shemileva, one of the two, was the sister of Khamzat Shemilev, the late amir of the NV’s Grozny Sector, covering Chechnya’s capitol, who was killed in 2010.[20]

In a perhaps related event, at the time these cells were uncovered the trial in Austria of a 30-year old Chechen and former CE jihadist, Magomed Zakriev, who joined ISIL/IS was underway in Austria. Zakriev was arrested in August 2014 and charged with joining ISIL after arriving in Syria from Chechnya in July 2013. He claimed he was involved in humanitarian aid in Syria, but Austrian police said he underwent training explosives and bomb-making and took part in battle operations in Syria. During his arrest, poice found bomb-making instructions and evidence he had sent $800 to the mujahedin in Syria. He came to Austria to receive medical assistance for health problems, and planned to return to Syria and fight.[21]

Conclusion

The above developments confirm once again — for those still in denial — that the CE is part and parcel of the global jihadist revolutionary alliance. More CE or native Caucasus mujahedin working with IS and AQ and plotting terrorist attacks should be expected in the West. Western capitals would do well to ignore those in Washington and mainstream media downplaying jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and the weakened, albeit, Caucasus Emirate. This would help avoid the kind of blood-letting we witnessed less than two years ago, when CE-inspired terrorists, however unprofessional, carried out the third successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

[1] Gordon M. Hahn, “The Caucasus Emirate and Other North Caucasus Mujahedin in Syria: Implications for Russia, Eurasia, and the Global Jihadi Revolutionary Movement,” Russian and Eurasian Politics White Paper, April 2014, https://gordonhahn.com/2014/04/01/the-caucasus-emirate-and-other-north-caucasus-mujahedin-in-syria-implications-for-russia-eurasia-and-the-global-jihadi-revolutionary-movement/.

[2] http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/JWFrankfurtAQHijack2000Report26Sep13.pdf?V=1

[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/03/world/europe/spain-terror-arrests/index.html

[4] Hahn, “The Caucasus Emirate and Other North Caucasus Mujahedin in Syria.”

[5] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, http://warontherocks.com/2014/10/the-islamic-states-anbar-offensive-and-abu-umar-al-shishani/

[6] Oddly this is said after the author writes that the CE now has a base in Syria attracting thousands of Caucasus fighters to Syria. Mairbek Vatchagaev, http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42827&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=756&no_cache=1#.VN_QjvnF-uw.

[7] http://vdagestan.com/kadij-dagestana-abu-usman-razyasnenie-otnositelno-poslednix-sobytij-i-prisyagi-bagdadi-video.djihad.

[8] http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/254364/.

[9] http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2014/12/25/107471.shtml.

[10] http://vdagestan.com/razyasnenie-kadiya-dagestana-po-povodu-prisyagi-abu-muxammada-kadarskogo-abu-bakru-al-bagdadi.djihad.

[11] http://vdagestan.com/zayavlenie-amira-imarata-kavkaz-ali-abu-muxammada-v-svyazi-s-poslednimi-sobytiyami-v-dagestane-video.djihad.

[12] http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2015/01/09/107623.shtml.

[13] http://fisyria.info/?p=14863.

[14] http://www.aksam.com.tr/guncel/sultanahmet-bombacisi-rus-diana-ramazova/haber-370934.

[15]http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/dagestanis-detained-in-turkey-for-istanbul-suicide-bombing/514365.html.

[16] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/16/pregnant-istanbul-suicide-bomber-russian-citizen.

[17] “Arrests as German police raid Islamists on suspicion of terrorism in Berlin,” Deutsche Welle, 16 January 2015, http://www.dw.de/arrests-as-german-police-raid-islamists-on-suspicion-of-terrorism-in-berlin/a-18195510.

[18] Reuters, 20 January 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/01/20/uk-france-shooting-arrests-idUKKBN0KT1IE20150120; France24, 20 January 2015, www.france24.com/en/20150120-french-police-detain-five-suspected-plotting-attack/; and BBC, 20 January 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30894481.

[19] Refworld, 14 February 2014, www.refworld.org/docid/5301c82d4.html.

[20] Kavkaz uzel, 21 August 2010, http://chechnya.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/173215/.

[21] ORF Radio (Austria), 22 January 2015, http://noe.orf.at/news/stories/2690771/. See also the CE’s main website, Kavkaz tsentr, 23 January 2015, http://www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2015/01/23/107791.shtml.